Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

NCR's Rage Against the Latin Mass

Probably everyone who has spent a share of time in the Catholic online world has a couple "crazy trad" stories. Insular and ideologically driven groups tend to generate this. It's similarly impossible not to collect a few "crazy prog" stories if one interacts with progressive Catholic groups at all.

I would tend to think that the lesson in all this is that all groups are subject to the foibles of fallen human nature, and that the more a group is inclined to excuse (or even encourage) bad behavior so long as it is done by people who are loyal to the cause, the more toxic the group will become.

Not everyone takes this broad lesson, however. Others take a blinkered view that "those others" are irredeemably wicked, and then they write overwrought pieces of prose like this for the National Catholic Reporter.

The Latin Mass rears its veiled head in this unholy history at several points. The last Masses my mother remembered attending took place before the Second Vatican Council, so naturally she started going to Latin Masses when she returned to the church because they were familiar. The church was going to welcome us, she thought. The treatment we got was slightly shy of the Spanish Inquisition.

Needless to say, anything in the church looking remotely female was completely veiled. The people had the humor of a gallows crowd and the pastor, arrayed in lavish vestments, was more like a Renaissance baron. After over an hour spent every Sunday drowning in incense smoke and getting sneered at, we did not feel any closer to God.
One occasion that remains burned into my memory was when I attended Mass at a Catholic university. It was a busy Sunday and my schedule demanded I attend Mass at a particular time. I did not know it was a Latin Mass until I stumbled over the doorstep. The atmosphere was typically medieval. I was surprised to recognize some people there. One of them was a professor who was known to be a chauvinistic person. When I saw his wife, I was shocked — and suddenly realized the ugly extent of his prejudices. His wife was a mere ghost of a woman. She was covered from head to foot. Her dress was so long that it dragged on the floor. Even her entire neck and her hands were covered. She kept her head bowed and always walked behind her husband. She carried a rosary and looked physically weak — almost ill.

The professor, by contrast, looked swaggering and hearty. He strutted around and chatted with others in church as she followed him like a pale shadow. Seeing this, I believed I had witnessed a very dark side to the professor's spirituality. His religion was a mechanism of abusive control.
Looking around, I was astonished to see many college-aged men and women among the crowd. The priests seemed to be in their 30s. Clearly these people were too young to remember times before Vatican II. Yet something had drawn them here. Parental influence? Doubtful. It seemed to be a shared spirit of ultra-conservatism. I found it frightening to reflect on how the closed, Latin Mass mindset had managed to replicate itself over time and spread like a virus.

Unsurprisingly, while there I had another memorably bad experience. I asked to receive Communion in the hands. Most traditional-type priests I'd encountered in my lifetime would give me the Eucharist in the hands. Not this pastor. He literally made a scene at the altar and jerked the Eucharist away from me when I reached out to receive it — as if my hands would contaminate the very Jesus who, according to the Catholic faith, seeks Communion with my soul. I seriously considered walking out of the church at that point, but decided to receive the Eucharist instead since I wanted to pray. After Mass I gave the priests a piece of my mind.

Clericalism defined the response I received. When I informed an assisting priest that the pastor had been very rude to me at the altar and asked that my views be relayed, he replied: "I won't throw our pastor under the bus. He's the pastor. I refuse to tell him to correct his behavior," the priest said.

I reminded him that, as a priest, he was supposed to be of service and value my feedback as a believer. The priest took a step back and looked at me in astonishment, as if the notion of service had never occurred to him. "Very well. I'll tell the pastor what you said," he said condescendingly. "But I don't think he did anything wrong."

His attitude was a trademark example of the culture within the Catholic Church that encourages abuse. His first reaction was to default to absolute loyalty to his pastor, then dismiss my views. When pressed further, he flat-out denied all wrongdoing. To clericalists, complainers are always the problem — not those who belong to the herd, and certainly not clergy.

Honestly, more than anything else, what surprises me in all this is that someone could manage to stumble across Latin masses so often while apparently not liking them. The times that I've sought out a Latin mass, it's taken considerable effort to do so. Additionally surprising is that NCR would publish such a poorly written piece. Yes, it clearly aligns with their prejudices, but one would think that a publication of age and reputation would insist on a little more style even when giving vent to their id.

Also of interest in how the cult of the up-to-date thinks about our own culture and history versus those of others as a section near the end of the piece:

With feudalistic rigidity, the priest argued in defense of his pastor against the traditions of the "novus ordo"—a derogatory term used by Latin Mass cultists to denote regular English-language Masses. He said the Masses I regularly attended were invented "only 40 years ago" — as if that devalued them somehow —and insisted they were only "allowed to exist, but not standardly recommended." He claimed the church only allowed Communion in the hands "in extreme cases." Of course, I know this is not true. He capped his radical fundamentalist arguments by saying the Latin Mass is a solemn rite equal to Byzantine and Coptic rites and that rules cannot be changed for anyone. He accused me of being "rude" by expecting them "to change their rites."

I feel it necessary to point out — lest readers be confused by his illogicality — that the Byzantine and Coptic rites originate in the traditions of distinct Catholic churches in foreign countries. The Latin Mass, by contrast, is merely an extinct model of tradition practiced in the United States and other countries, and was never a separate church nor imported from a foreign country. Therefore the Latin Mass can be compared to Coptic and Byzantine churches as much as apples can be compared to oranges. No ancient Romans or native Latin speakers will be disenfranchised by changes made to the Latin Mass — just hardliners unable to let go of their particular ideology.

Of course, the Latin Mass also originates in the traditions of a distinct Catholic Church: the Roman Catholic Church. What liturgical traditionalists point out with some degree of justice is that those traditions were to radically disrupted when after the Vatican II council those put in charge of liturgical reform discarded the incremental approach which arguably the council documents encouraged decided to do a complete overhaul of the text and rubrics of the mass, while also encouraging those responsible for Church music, vestments, architecture, etc. to entirely discard the history of the Roman church in favor of the spirit of the moment during the 1970s. It's precisely this kind of bulldozer treatment which the Byzantines and Copts have sought to avoid suffering. Somehow this is acceptable to church progressives because they think of these are foreign cultures that need to be protected, but within their own culture these same people see no value to the past at all, and describe an desire to maintain he beauties of the past as "hardliners unable to let go".

There are real problems that have grown up in some sectors of "traditionalist" culture, which can indeed be insular, sexist, and overly credulous towards dubious apparitions and devotions. However, the tendency to attack any desire to maintain the liturgical traditions of the Roman Rite just ends up empowering that same traditionalist culture, because it leaves them as the most obvious defenders of a liturgical tradition which is in fact valuable.


Bernard Brandt said...

At the risk of being accused of 'whateverism' (whatever that may be), I have noticed the same tendency on the part of those preferring the Old Latin Mass to demonize and to 'other' those preferring the Novus Ordo liturgy. This is not to attempt to deny the truth of what you have to say here, Darwin, but rather, to point out the sides of a cultural and religious war which has been waged since the time that His late Holiness, Paul VI, instituted the Novus Ordo liturgy and suppressed the earlier Tridentine one.

That war has been waged for the last half century, with the new guard being in the ascendant for most of that time. During most if not all of that time, the new guard, in serving the new mass, and against the wishes of the Council Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, dropped as much of Holy Tradition, in the forms of liturgical music, sacred art and architecture, and traditional liturgical praxis, as they possibly could.

In consequence, those who valued Holy Tradition were given the choice of swallowing the pabulum of the New Mass and abandoning that tradition, or either being disobedient to the hierarchy of the Church, and joining a schismatic group, or taking refuge in any of the few churches, either Eastern or Western, which preserved Holy Tradition in its liturgical praxis. While Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave the traditionalists more opportunity to worship as they wished, the largely modernist clergy and hierarchy continued to deny the traditionalists most opportunities for them to have a more traditional worship.

As a result of the above, traditionalists and modernists appear to be embittered toward one another. And, since their conflict has now reached the state of war, both sides appear to wish to deny to the other their right to worship in the manner that they choose.

Of course, if either or both sides were obedient to current canon law, each would grant the other their rights under canon 214, "to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church."

But, since the acrimony of both the modernists and the traditionalists is such as to deny justice under canon law each to the other, this warfare looks like it will be a long time in the fighting.

Darwin said...


Indeed, that seems a correct assessment right on down the line.

Agnes said...

"the more a group is inclined to excuse (or even encourage) bad behavior so long as it is done by people who are loyal to the cause, the more toxic the group will become."

If only more people would recognize this! I feel like this is a primary lesson in objectivity and fairness which should be taught from childhood (i. e. bad behavior is bad no matter who does it).

"The Latin Mass, by contrast, is merely an extinct model of tradition practiced in the United States and other countries"

Oh dear. Not imported from another country indeed! It was brought into America with the (Roman) Catholic people who came here as their own living tradition.

"After over an hour spent every Sunday drowning in incense smoke and getting sneered at, we did not feel any closer to God."
Why did they, again, go to mass if they did not get anything out of it than incense smoke? It feels like intentional provocation to me, definitely not like someone returning to the church (presumably having at least some openness to the meaning of the celebration of the Mass beyond the outward appearance).